California evangelist Rick Warren, senior pastor to more than 20,000 at his Saddleback Church, has ditched plans for a "civil forum" with the presidential candidates, blaming what he called the uncivil "climate of today's campaign."
"It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day," Warren told the Orange County Register. "I've never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don't expect that tone to change before the election."
What Warren neglects to mention is that neither campaign had ever actually committed to attending his pageant, which had been set for this week. Last month, the Obama campaign denied to Politico that the president had any plans to share a stage with Mitt Romney before the October debates. The Romney camp had demurred, as well.
Less than four years ago, Warren delivered the invocation at President Obama's inauguration. A few months before that, he hosted a similar "civil forum" meeting with Obama and the 2008 Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.
But Warren's relationship with the president has deteriorated over the past four years, most notably when the mega-church pastor skewered Obama over an HHS mandate requiring employers' insurance plans cover contraception. Even after Obama worked to soften the language, Warren continued to attack the decision.
ABC's Jake Tapper spoke with Warren during an Easter edition of "This Week."
WARREN: Now I don't have a problem with contraceptives. I'm a Protestant. I'm an evangelical. But I do support my Catholic brothers and sisters to believe what they want to believe. And I would support my Jewish brothers and sisters to believe what they want to believe, and say if you say we don't eat pork, we don't want to serve it in our deli, then you shouldn't have to serve it in your deli, because there's plenty of other places to get pork.
TAPPER: But as far as you're concerned, does that - you think that should apply beyond houses of worship, but houses of worship are already exempt?
WARREN: The Constitution says freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship. And churches, synagogues, mosques do far more than worship. In fact, if you took out all of the social services that it provided by Christian churches, and for that matter synagogues and mosques, too, America would go bankrupt in about six months, because the vast amount of social services, the free clinics and the feeding the poor and caring for the sick and educating the next generation is done a lot by these religious organizations. And they should not have to say, well, I have to put my religion on the shelf to care for people.
Warren's opposition to the Obama contraception decision, expressed in the form of the deli meat metaphor above - which certain Democrats seized on as part of their "War on Women" drive - is one he returned to Wednesday in his discussion with the Register, saying: "If the government suddenly decreed that all Jewish delis must now offer pork, you'd find me opposing that with my rabbi friends. I don't have a problem with pork, but I support your right to follow your faith."
Neither campaign would comment on the Warren's decision or his statement about the relative rhetorical state of this election season.